The 20 Sweetest Swings in MLB History

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterApril 3, 2020

The 20 Sweetest Swings in MLB History

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    Ken Griffey Jr. may or may not be on this list.
    Ken Griffey Jr. may or may not be on this list.Bill Chan/Associated Press

    In baseball, a swing need not to be sweet to get results.

    But if nothing else, a sweet swing is a good thing to be remembered by. So while we wait for the coronavirus crisis to blow over, we endeavored to rank the 20 sweetest swings in Major League Baseball history.

    To be sure, exactly what makes a swing "sweet" is surely in the eye of the beholder. For us, it comes down to some combination of mechanical efficiency, fluidity and effortlessness.

    The shortage—or, in many cases, utter lack—of video footage of old-timers required us to primarily set our sights on those who have come through MLB in the last few decades. As such, this is essentially a list of great swings for which there's readily available evidence of said greatness.

    In any case, let's count 'em down.

20. Ryan Howard

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    Only two players have ever hit more home runs through their first six major league seasons than Ryan Howard did between 2004 and 2009.

    Pretty impressive, considering he didn't become an everyday player until 2006.

    Though Howard's 6'4", 250-pound frame was strong all over, his legs served him best when he was in the box. They gave him an ultra-sturdy hitting foundation, which left his upper body little to do other than guide the bat to the ball and flick it over the fence.

    In the best of times, that swing was responsible for 198 long balls (33 more than the next guy) between 2006 and 2009.

19. Ryan Braun

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    Between 2007 and 2012, Ryan Braun terrorized pitchers with a .943 OPS and 34 home runs per season.

    At work there was a swing that at once looked violent and serene. The way in which he shifted his stance from open to closed helped him keep his hips from flying open. From there, it was pretty much all bat speed into a dandy two-handed follow-through.

    Though Braun's stardom has faded with age, his swing is still sweet enough to draw a crowd.

    "It's the swing that guys on the other team want to come watch in batting practice," Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell said in 2018, according to Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register.

18. Jim Edmonds

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    A decade after hanging up his spikes, Jim Edmonds might best be remembered as an eight-time Gold Glove center fielder who specialized in impossible catches.

    But the guy could hit, too. 

    Indeed, Edmonds' swing was as efficient as it was pretty. He stood straight up in the box and turned his front hip slightly inward, and then exploded in a fluid motion when he saw a pitch he liked.

    By the end of his 17-year career, Edmonds had racked up a .903 OPS and 393 home runs. Among center fielders, only he and four others have ever hit those two marks.

17. Darryl Strawberry

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    Way back in 1990, John Steadman of the Baltimore Sun wrote that it was a "majestic moment" and an "exhilarating experience" whenever Darryl Strawberry swung the bat.

    A bit hyperbolic, perhaps, but surely rooted in truth.

    Though Strawberry didn't have much bulk on his 6'6", 190-pound frame, he still swung his bat as if it were a toothpick. That speaks to the strength of his wrists and forearms, as well as to the momentum with which he met the ball after transferring his weight onto his front foot.

    Strawberry used his beautiful swing to blast 280 homers between 1983 and 1991, plus nine more in a single game for the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team in 1992.

16. Will Clark

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    Back in 1989, San Francisco Giants general manager Al Rosen did an interview while a certain someone took batting practice in the background.

    "Listen to that," Rosen told Joe Gergen of the Los Angeles Times. "You don't have to see him to know who's hitting."

    It was Will Clark. He kept it loose with a stance that oozed swagger. After leaning out over the plate, he would then turn his hips and fling his bat through the zone like a trebuchet unleashing its payload.

    Clark unfortunately had trouble staying healthy in the latter half of his career, but before that came a run between 1987 and 1991 in which he wreaked havoc with an .899 OPS and 27 homers per year.

15. Carlos Gonzalez

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    It wasn't just because of Coors Field that Carlos Gonzalez was such a great hitter in his prime.

    Granted, his vintage swing wasn't a model of efficiency. He had an exaggerated leg kick that took his stance from open to closed, and he kept his front foot off the ground right up to when the ball was entering the hitting zone.

    He had the timing down pat, however, which leads into what he told Nick Groke of the Denver Post in 2016: "If you're on time, you can let your hands do the work." And goodness, were his hands quick.

    Notably, all this helped Gonzalez hit .311 with a .926 OPS and 27 homers per season between 2010 and 2013.

14. Chipper Jones

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    The tricky thing with switch-hitters is that breaking down their swings is liable to require twice as much work.

    But Chipper Jones? Not so much.

    Even if his swings from the left and right side weren't quite mirror images, both revolved around him keeping his head still, his hands back and his front shoulder tucked for as long as possible. If he liked what he saw, then he uncoiled and gave the ball a good whacking.

    Jones never had any reason to make drastic changes to his mechanics on either side. During his 19-year career, he had a .947 OPS as a lefty and an .889 OPS as a righty.

13. Buster Posey

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    Few catchers are ultimately remembered for their offensive outputs, much less the smoothness of their swings.

    Obviously, Buster Posey isn't most catchers.

    Though his jittery pre-swing bat movement borders on distracting, Posey's swing is so eminently GIF-able because of how quiet everything gets once he's into his stance and then how smooth he is when he lets loose. Altogether, it's a swing fluid enough to drink.

    Posey's swing hasn't been working so great in the last few seasons, yet it certainly served him well as he hit .309 with an .853 OPS between 2010 and 2017.

12. Cody Bellinger

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    Rather than let this list become overrun with contemporary superstars, we figured it was best to reserve just one slot for the guy with the sweetest swing of them all.

    With all apologies to Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, Mookie Betts, Alex Bregman, Nolan Arenado and Bryce Harper, that's Cody Bellinger.

    Because of the head movement involved, it's perhaps not advisable to copy Bellinger's shift from a straight-up idle stance to more of a crouched position as the ball is on its way. But once that's done, his weight transfer and hip rotation lead to a swing that's as clean as it is delightfully loopy.

    That, folks, is a swing worthy of a Rookie of the Year and an MVP.

11. Hank Aaron

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    If we're being honest, Hank Aaron is here mostly out of respect for the legend of his swing.

    Tragically, the actual evidence of his swing's greatness leaves much to be desired. What video there is of Aaron on MLB.com and YouTube is from the tail end of his career in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

    Still , the video above is a good window into Aaron's reputation as the "best wrist hitter in baseball." Though there's a semblance of a typical slugger's weight transfer, what more so stands out is just how smoothly he whipped his big bat through the hitting zone.

    So when you leave here, it should be with a greater appreciation for where Aaron's 755 home runs came from.

10. Babe Ruth

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    If you're going to revolutionize baseball, you'd better have a revolutionary swing.

    There was indeed more to Babe Ruth's slugging prowess than just his hulking 6'2", 215-pound frame. While the typical early 1900s hitter merely focused on making contact, Ruth generated hitherto unseen power with a load and weight transfer that put every last pound of his body into his swing.

    As Jane Leavy wrote of Ruth's swing in The Big Fella: "It was a model of biomechanical efficiency, though no one possessed the language or technology to understand it then."

    Whether Ruth himself could still hack it in today's MLB is, well, debatable. Regardless, there's no taking away his 714 home runs or his all-time record 1.164 OPS.

9. Alex Rodriguez

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    Between 1994 and 2016, Alex Rodriguez enjoyed terrific season after terrific season en route to a .930 OPS and 696 home runs.

    Of course, it's no secret that not all of that was on the level. Yet it's also to A-Rod's credit that his exquisite swing didn't come about because of anything he put in his body.

    At 6'3", 230 pounds, Rodriguez struck an imposing figure in the box. He essentially leaned into that with his swing, which emanated sheer strength. If one thing in particular stands out, it's the torque he generated through the rotation of his hips.

    So even if his career accomplishments are too tarnished for Cooperstown, Rodriguez's swing itself is worthy of recognition.

8. Manny Ramirez

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    Though there are valid reasons for why he's struggling to gain entry into the Hall of Fame, Manny Ramirez was nonetheless both feared and respected as a hitter in his heyday.

    Because he made subtle tweaks to his specific mechanics throughout the years, it's difficult to pinpoint any one thing that made Ramirez's swing so special. It tends to vary on the highlight.

    Broadly speaking, however, he had an uncanny ability to keep every muscle in his body in sync. When combined with his knacks for pitch recognition and getting the barrel to the ball, the power he unleashed could be downright gargantuan.

    Such is how, after 18 years, he came to be sitting on a .995 OPS and 555 home runs.

7. Edgar Martinez

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    A guy isn't going to spend nearly 70 percent of his 2,055 games at designated hitter if he doesn't have a good swing.

    As Edgar Martinez himself told David Laurila of FanGraphs in 2015, his swing was born out of necessity. Once he noticed he was having trouble turning on the ball as a young prospect, he pulled his hands back and adopted a leg kick.

    When combined with his head stillness and flair for hitting the ball on the barrel, Martinez thus had all the ingredients for a swing that produced a .312/.418/.515 batting line over 18 seasons.

    He should have been elected into the Hall of Fame sooner than 2019, but later is better than never.

6. Miguel Cabrera

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    Alas, Miguel Cabrera's prime is over. But it sure was fun while it lasted.

    For 13 seasons between 2004 and 2016, an average season for Cabrera included a .323/.402/.566 slash line and 33 home runs. It was one of the most dominant runs of hitting in baseball history.

    Through it all, Cabrera's swing was the very definition of "effortless." His timing mechanics varied from at-bat to at-bat, but everything led to him keeping his head perfectly still before his upper and lower halves synced up for a devastating wallop.

    As former manager Clint Hurdle said of Cabrera in 2016, per Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press: "He makes it looks effortless and easy and it's not."

5. Robinson Cano

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    We'll get to Ken Griffey Jr., but for now, consider a guy whose swing was once described by Ryan Parker of Baseball Prospectus as being as "close to a 'Griffey' swing as this generation has seen."

    That was—and to some extent, still is—Robinson Cano.

    When watching him in the box, it's easy to get distracted by the bat waggle that precedes his actual swing. But there's a certain stillness to his other moving parts, as he merely needs a slight hip turn in order to load up for an utter whipcrack of a swing.

    When Cano was at his best between 2009 and 2016, that swing generated an .875 OPS and 27 long balls per season.

4. Barry Bonds

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    He may be the single-season and the all-time home run leader, but we actually wavered about including Barry Bonds here.

    Once he bulked up and started chasing home run history in the 2000s, his M.O. was to let the ball travel deep into the hitting zone before unleashing the full fury of his bat speed. As a result, his swing was less sweet and more, well, savage.

    But as a slimmer man in the 1980s and 1990s, Bonds indeed cut a pleasant image through his hip rotation and magician-like hand quickness. And no matter the specific era of his career, his swing is to be commended for its mechanical flawlessness.

    For various reasons, not everyone necessarily has to like Bonds. Aspiring hitters, however, would do well to study him.

3. Albert Pujols

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    Back in 2011, The Onion summed it up with this joke headline: "Every Player Begins Hitting Home Runs After Copying Albert Pujols' Stance, Swing."

    When he was in his prime, the beauty of Pujols' swing was in its simplicity. Once he got into his hitting position by bending his knees and raising his hands behind his head, he barely moved at all until he decided a pitch was worth hacking at.

    On that occasion, his hips would twist and his hands would snap his bat through the hitting zone. Loud contact usually followed.

    Though he's tailed off in the last decade, the .331/.426/.624 line and 41 homers that Pujols averaged between 2001 and 2010 should not soon be forgotten.

2. Ted Williams

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    And now for a guy who literally wrote the book on hitting.

    Ted Williams' swing was somewhat similar to Babe Ruth's in how the two loaded their hands and shifted their weight onto their front foot. But what stands out about Williams' swing even today is the utter absence of wasted movement or effort.

    Beyond the sheer efficiency of Williams' swing, the intent of it has also aged well. He was preaching about swinging up at the ball decades before hitters across MLB banded together in defiance of ground balls.

    Along with his all-time record .482 on-base percentage, consider these among the reasons why Williams is the greatest hitter who ever lived.

1. Ken Griffey Jr.

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    Let's be real. This list could only end with the one, the only, Ken Griffey Jr.

    His was the swing that launched a million imitations during the 1990s, and you didn't do it right unless you did everything from the wiggle of the hips and hands all the way through to the trademark follow-through and bat drop.

    Harder to duplicate was Griffey's actual swing. It's not so easy to keep one's hands back and hips and shoulders closed until the last possible nanosecond, only then exploding into something like a pirouette.

    Griffey's magical swing produced 630 home runs in total, not to mention a .993 OPS and 44 home runs per year throughout his 1993-2000 peak.

               

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference. All videos courtesy of MLB, via YouTube.